THEY tell ME by EARL E. BUIE

Inadvertently, I am certain, a reader of this department has made a jackass out of himself.
Assuming that he was an animal, he writes as “Jack Burro”, protesting what he describes as the cruelty of wranglers in burro races.
Obviously, he is referring to the annual burro race sponsored by the Old Miners’ Days in Big Bear Valley, this year scheduled Aug. 5-8.

My reader’s letter:

“Dear Mr. Buie:

“You’ll be surprised to get a letter from a burro. But here is one to tell you, as you probably already know, there is another burro race coming up. I want you to try and stop it because you know many good people who are acquainted with such cruelty to us burros.

“The burro race drivers are mean and cruel. When we get tired and lay down they pour sand in our ears or tie ropes around our lower jaw to pull us upon our tired feet. Even Indian Joe in Arizona wasn’t this mean; he only hit us with a piece of cactus. These drivers will tell you they are not cruel to us, but they are liars. The guard turn their heads to such cruelties. One driver even had a prod stick with a wire from electric batteries attached to it. But the batteries were too low to shock us. Go see for yourself, Mr. Buie, and tell your readers to help stop this cruelty, and I’ll give you a ride sometime.

“Jack Burro”

I’m sorry to inform Jack that I’ve seen a burro race, from Apple Valley to Big Bear Valley over a course roughly 30 miles in length, and frankly, my sympathies were with the wranglers – not the burros – every foot of the way.

I saw nothing cruel about a wrangler, himself near exhaustion from a blistering sun, twisting a burro’s tail or his ears, giving him a few solid kicks in the rump or poking him in the ribs to encourage him to take a step or two—even a brief trot. Most of the time it was the contestant wrangler who was doing all the work. He tugged at a rope around the burro’s neck in a seldom successful entry along the course. He waved his arms, talked alternately sweet and profane words, yelled at the top of his voice and prayed for a bullwhip, which, of course, is prohibited equipment for a burro racer.

I’ll admit that, perhaps, the meanest man won the race. But there are other attributes that a burro wrangler must possess if he were even to get his entry off the starting line, like the patience of Job, a strange understanding of a burro’s stubbornness, laziness and stupidity; a love for competitive endeavor and the stamina of a Mt. Everest climber. Without any of these qualifications, he would never get a wild burro half a mile.

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And I must tell Jack that he is poorly informed of the arrangements for this year’s race and what a good deal his fellow burros will get.

Already, Mike Mele, a Norco livestock rancher, has obtained a permit from the government to catch 65 of Jack’s wild brothers in the Joshua tree National Monument where foraging for a meal is pretty rough and there’s precious little shade except under a straggly Joshua tree. Mele will transport the animals by truck to Pioneertown, the starting point for this year’s race, rather than Apple Valley.

At Pioneertown, Mele will place the burros in a corral for two weeks, there to feed on baled hay and oats, or whatever a burro prefers in his diet. And, when, I ask you, did you ever hear of a wild burro living so high?

The first leg of the race will be run from Pioneertown through Yucca Valley and on to Landers, from where the animals will be transported again by truck to Lucerne. I doubt if any of the burros will be so stupidly stubborn as to refuse a ride part of the way to Big Bear Valley, Do you?

From Lucerne, the last leg of the race will be run, starting on Friday. Aug. 6, to Shay’s cattle ranch in Big Bear Valley, a distance of some 18 miles. The course will be up Cushenbury Canyon. If the wranglers can survive, the burros should reach Shaw’s Ranch by evening — but there may be some stragglers.

From Shay’s, the final leg of the race will extend to downtown Big Bear Lake where the weary wranglers should be able to drag or push their burros across the finish line sometime in the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 7 to the cheers of Old Miners’ Day guests. There Bill Snyder, president of the Old Miners’ Day Association, which annually sponsors the celebration in Big Bear Valley, will award the prize to the winning wrangler.

And even the burros will be rewarded. Instead of being shunted back to Joshua Tree National Monument and a life of rough existence they will be sold to pack animal stations or possibly as pets. In any event, there’ll be no more foraging for scant mouthfuls of food. The burros will know some of the pleasures of domesticity which, it would appear to me, is preferable to life in the desert.

Who’s cruel to burros?